Making Sense of Rye Beer

When most people think of rye, they think of bread, or perhaps a sandwich. However, there are some pretty good reasons that the word "rye" should evoke thoughts of delicious beer in your imagination instead. What's up with rye beer and how does it differ from other brews? Let's take a closer look at the benefits offered by using this grain in the brewing process.

Rye has been used in brewing for a very long time, though it has not been particularly widespread. It's generally been a local thing – rye tends to grow better in poorer soil and less than perfect growing conditions. Therefore, you'll find it used more heavily in areas where wheat and barley don't thrive. 

There are quite a few positive attributes to using it in the brewing process, though. You'll find that the optimum mixture of rye with other grains actually enhances the overall flavor complexity of beer and provides a specific finish, as well. However, if more than 10 or 20% rye is used, problems can crop up. Many consumers don't want to purchase a beer brewed with a very high concentration of this grain, so commercial brewers tend to stay away from it. Nevertheless, homebrewed beers can contain up to 25% or more and the brewers still report excellent results.

Another problem with rye beer is the fact that it can be difficult to use in the brewing process. Even experienced brewers have reported problems with initial batches. For instance, rye often leads to a very sticky mash, since it has a very high water retention rate and comes without a hull hence the need to use rice hulls to create a filter bed. Otherwise this leads to setting, which can be problematic. There can also be problems with filtration because of the high protein and beta-glucan content.

However, for those who are successful with this grain, there are lots of flavor benefits. Rye offers a flavor somewhat similar to that of wheat – clean and crisp. However, it also has some spiciness to it, as well, which can lend a nice character to beer. 

If you are considering using this grain to brew your next batch, there are many things to consider. However, you might just find that it offers that "something different" that you're looking for. Still, make sure that you know what you're doing before you start. The brewing process can be longer and harder with this grain so it's highly advised that you take your time and know your stuff before you start out.

Posted on March 22, 2011 and filed under Beer Styles and Trends.